Zorro Rides Again (1937)

There is a strong link between the characters of Zorro and Batman, a link that I have a feeling has not yet been thoroughly explored. I will come back to that link later on.

Zorro Rides Again was the first (and best) of three serials based on the Zorro character. All three are available from the Internet Archive, and I may quite possibly return to the other two in the future.

Duncan Renaldo and John Carroll in Zorro Rides Again (1937)

This version does not try to be very creative with the Zorro character. It is not a reboot per se, yet largely builds its own background and characters; still everything pretty much remains from earlier versions. The main character is the original Zorro’s great grandson James Vega, and when he arrives to help protect a railroad construction plagued by a villainous terrorist called El Lobo, great hopes are placed on him. But like his forefather, he pretends to be a foppish dillettante by day, only to change into Zorro’s costume by night. All the old attributes are here. The only thing missing is the black cape.

Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman’s creators, drew inspiration from many sources and characters when creating Batman. One of them, The Bat, has already been covered in this blog. Other sources have been reported to include Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom. Kane has reportedly said that one of his sources was the film The Mark of Zorro (1920). There is no reason to doubt the truth of the statement, of course. Douglas Fairbanks’ Zorro film has been tremendously influential on a number of levels, not least for the Zorro character himself.

Yet I think we should not dismiss Zorro Rides Again. Admittedly, it may not be as elegant or ground-breaking as The Mark of Zorro, but there are two reasons to believe that it may have left an impact on Batman. To begin with, it was released only two years prior to the first published Batman story, so the timing is much better than for the considerably older Fairbanks film. But even more to the point, Zorro Rides Again may have been the first use of Zorro’s underground cavern hideout, and thus not only provided inspiration for many Zorro incarnations to come, but potentially served as a model for the Batcave.

So my bottom line is that while The Mark of Zorro may have been the main inspiration going from Zorro to Batman, Zorro Rides Again may well have stimulated Kane’s interest in the Zorro character, and it probably also contributed some small pieces of inspiration itself.

This serial is best enjoyed if you enjoy serials in general or if you want an introduction to the genre. It is a good representative with a lot of nice action and fancy stuntwork. The plot may be stupid at times, but it is never dull. The actors … well, you never watch serials for the actors, anyhow.

John Carroll in Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Zorro Rides Again
Download link (first chapter and links to the other eleven)
Year: 1937
Running time: 3 h 34 min
Directors: John English, William Witney
Stars: John Carroll
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable

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The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994)

I have previously written about two of the films in The Mind’s Eye series of CGI animation episode films, namely Beyond the Mind’s Eye (1992) and Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996). Now the time has come for the film that was chronologically released between those two, namely The Gate to the Mind’s Eye. If you know nothing about this series, it may be better to follow the link to one of the other films before diving into this one.

The Great Wall of China from The Gate to the Mind's Eye (1994)

Music is always central in any Mind’s Eye film, and this one is no exception. The music was produced and performed by Thomas Dolby, and features a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks. I like it a lot, but I prefer the instrumental tracks, since I find that the vocals detract some of my attention from the images.

As with all the other films in the series, this one has good parts and rather less good parts. The sci-fi animations in the first half for the most part lack originality, even though they look nice at times, but several animations in the middle part, such as “Legacy” and “El idioma español”, are both beautiful and fascinating. Towards the end, we even see some pretty nifty social commentary in sections such as “Zapping”.

This film is best enjoyed by fans of the series, or if you like Thomas Dolby. If you have not seen anything from The Mind’s Eye before, I would suggest that you start with Beyond the Mind’s Eye.

The Gate to the Mind's Eye (1994)

The Gate to the Mind’s Eye
Download link
Year: 1994
Running time: 55 min
Director: Michael Boydstun
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: CD/DVD image (2.3 G) or h.264 (330 M)

Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street is an excellent Film Noir, one that would easily defend its place even if it did not happen to be directed by legendary German director Fritz Lang, during the period that he worked in Hollywood.

Edward G Robinson and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Fritz Lang’s Hollywood career is somewhat overshadowed by his early German works. Many of them were silent, like Metropolis (1927), but Lang also had time to make a couple of sound movies, M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (1931) being one of the best-known, before he had to leave Germany to get away from the Nazis. With deathlessly classic pictures like the ones above, Lang wrote himself into cinematic history.

But Lang’s Hollywood career of about two decades should not be disregarded. His films from that period may not be as revolutionary as his German masterpieces, but they are for the most part solidly crafted. Good, sometimes first-rate, acting; interesting plots; and, not least, even an uninspired and tired Lang was still a brilliant director.

This is where Scarlet Street comes in. A typical example of Lang’s Hollywood – one of his better, actually. The actors do excellent work. A very positive surprise is Dan Duryea, whom I had not seen before that I can remember. The story, about an old and somewhat shy clerk who is seduced by a young girl who only wants to use him together with her somewhat crooked fiancé, is very neatly played out by the creative team.

This film is best enjoyed if you want to explore Fritz Lang after his German period, or if you just enjoy a solid Film Noir.

Dan Duryea and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street
Download link
Year: 1945
Running time: 1 h 41 min
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

In a world where everything and everyone has to have its own special day, there is no reason why there should not be a dedicated Star Wars Day. And even though that day happens to be chosen because of a bad word pun, one day will do as good as any. So let us celebrate Star Wars by looking at one of George Lucas’ influences.

In the DVD Special Edition commentary to Star Wars Episode II, during the fight between Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett, George Lucas said: “It turns into a kind of fun sequence with […] the cliffhanger part of it which, again, is in that old Saturday matinee serial aspect of this whole thing.”

Frank Shannon (Dr Zarkov), Carol Hughes (Dale Arden) and Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon) in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

The serials to which Lucas refers were actually made for the most part before Lucas was even born. But in the 1950s, they were rerun on television. One of the more important of these serials is Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, or as it was known on TV, Flash Gordon – Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.

Like many other serials of the time, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is not something you watch for the intricate and coherent plot. Nor are the actors at any time aiming for an Academy Award. I have a soft spot for Buster Crabbe, and he does a good job considering the circumstances, but Carol Hughes as Dale Arden is comically theatrical at times.

Below is a list of all the chapters, with links to the Internet Archive:

  1. The Purple Death
  2. Freezing Torture
  3. Walking Bombs
  4. The Destroying Ray
  5. The Palace of Horror
  6. Flaming Death
  7. The Land of the Dead
  8. The Fiery Abyss
  9. The Pool of Peril
  10. The Death Mist
  11. Stark Treachery
  12. Doom of the Dictator

If you prefer to not watch the entire thing, you can also find at the Archive a normal-length feature film edited from parts of the serial, titled The Purple Death from Outer Space.

This film is best enjoyed if you know your Star Wars. You will find lots of characters, situations and plot elements here that obviously inspired and influenced George Lucas in various ways. Emperor Ming the Merciless, for instance, has more than just a little bit of Darth Vader in him. Or the other way around.

Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe
Download link (first chapter)
Year: 1941
Running time: 3 h 21 min
Directors: Ford Beebe, Ray Taylor
Stars: Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable